If you can't tell, here we are on The Great Wall on a beautiful summer day in China!

Summer Greeting From China!

If you thought that Atlanta was hot, you have not been in south China in the summer time. All of our weather will now be measured on the scale of Jinhua hot; it is all the wonderful humidity of the South with the mildew and fungus from the beach thrown in, and a bonus bad construction so you get that extra water on the walls you had been missing. However, not intolerable and we have been in worse places! That is part of the adventure of living life.

In front of the Forbidden City.

When you look carefully, you can see the wall snaking all across the mountains in the countryside. It goes on, and on, and on.
Chinese opera has very elaborate costumes and characters.
We went to a famous restaurant in Beijing and had the Peking Duck served right at our table.
Hutong is the Chinese word for alley or small winding side streets that take you back into small neighborhoods. Like most cities, it is where you can see how the locals live and sometimes find surprises. The best place we found was Mr. Shi's, a homemade dumpling restaurant that made everything to order by hand, including dessert dumplings! Believe it or not you can always find a bathroom on every back street though maybe not what you were hoping for. As long as there is a commode, I can live without the walls, stalls, and accoutrements when I have to go! These are the places that make you feel like you are a part of a place and really experience it.


Every time we go to “another old village” as the kids say, it still fascinates me to see how people are still living there. The homes are all connected in a maze of narrow passageways and old people are all you will see here living in tiny living compartments; it is probably the first place with the idea of “tiny houses” that seems to be all the rage on Design TV. Most of the younger people have all gone to the cities to work and live, but the older people stayed where they were from and live a subsistence life on what they grow and a government retirement stipend. I have to say that it seems better than having to go to an old folks home as long as you can take care of yourself and have others around to check on you.

When you look at this landscape, China is not the location that come to mind.

They were still cooking with the old style stoves where you have to stoke the fire underneath and everything is cooked in oil in a giant pan built into the counter. I sneaked a peak in some of the rooms and they still had the beds like you can see in the royal palace with the little steps, curtains, and flat sleeping mattress. It is really like going back in time or to the land time forgot, interesting but a little sad in some ways.
You can't have a good Chinese home without a few chickens running around outside.
This was inside one of the old buildings in the village. They said the wood was over 500 years old. Everything was very intricately carved.
This is a Plumbeous Redstart that liked having his picture taken!

We actually saw these pheasants from the balcony of our apartment. It has been quite the wildlife park lately!

The Great Wall of China
You can’t come to China and not see the Great Wall so we were grateful that we got the opportunity at the last minute. We were blessed to have a couple of days off and decided to head to Beijing (often referred to as Peking), just a 6 hour train ride away! Even more incredulous was the fact that the sky was blue and clear, the streets uncrowded (for China), and the weather perfect. Beijing is known for smoggy, grey cloudy days and tons and tons of people; most of our students and quite of few of the Chinese teachers haven't even been there because of its reputation. We were willing to risk it in order to see The Great Wall and the Forbidden City, not wanting to leave China without taking advantage of the opportunity. To everyone who prays for us, thank you, because we truly are blessed daily by God!

The Great Wall can be visited at several locations but we didn't want to be at the most commercial location so we drove 2.5 hours out of Beijing to the Jinshangling section of the wall. It was like we were the only people there and it was amazing. We walked about 3.5 miles (the longest length recorded of the whole wall is about 13,000 miles which I still find hard to believe) along the wall which is actually made up of separate walls built by various kingdoms over 2,000 years (mainly the Ming) and connected to try and create a barrier from invaders. All along the wall are beacon towers where soldiers would use smoke signals or gunpowder explosions to send word back to the palace of an impending invasion.
Look carefully so you can see the wall in the background as it runs along the mountain tops.

Unfortunately it seems the wall was probably more picturesque than practical and didn't stop the Mongols, who claimed that the wall was only as strong as those who guarded it, but as the soldiers could be bribed, not very effective. It is still an unbelievably impressive architectural feat.
I think it would be beautiful to visit in the winter time to see the snow and winter landscape. Cold yes, but amazing.

When you see the wall in person and where it is located you can imagine the huge effort it must have taken to build it. It is made of stacked bricks and stone and you can see where it is getting ready to fall over as well as where the Chinese have been working to restore it. I read that Mao actually encouraged people to use the wall as free building material which lead to pillaging and the destruction of many parts. Several important sections have been rebuilt to encourage tourism and I think it is a great symbol of pride for the country, something that really reflects the history of the country and should be preserved

This was our water vendor on the wall. You can be sure to get a deal when there are few visitors and he doesn't want to take the water back down with him!
The walk is as up as it looks, no stairs, just edges to catch your feet if you slide back down.I think they are actually there to divert the water when it rains.

I don't know if you can tell from the pictures but there were parts where you had to be like a mountain goat because it was like going up the side of a cliff while other parts had uneven rock and stairs that looked they were out of the Flintstones in Bedrock. I am reminded every time we go out on an adventure of the value of good knees; most of the interesting places to visit are either uphill or downhill and seem to have a lot of stairs/steps. Another reason to travel throughout your life instead of waiting until the end in case your body has other ideas!

The Forbidden City or Imperial Palace

We were very excited to go see the Forbidden City (also referred to as The Royal Palace) after seeing it in the movies and knowing it had been unopened to the public for so many centuries. It would have been great to be able to get in a time machine and see what it was like back then with the people and activities going on: How did the empress really feel about all those concubines? How do you clean 9,000 rooms? Does one emperor really need all that space? What’s with all the clocks?
Just inside the main entrance gate,the first buildings you see inside the palace.
Outside the Forbidden City entrance.

The ceilings and doorways were all very decorate and overly ornate.
This is the theatre, the Place of Melodious Cheer.
The Imperial Garden behind the main buildings at the palace was probably a good place to get a quick break from the day but nowhere as relaxing as the Summer Palace. The Nine Dragon Screen is impressive because of its size and the fact that there are few of these around anymore, but we were more intrigued with the bird in the tree nearby, a Hoopoe (look for photo below). I would have thought it was a type of woodpecker but it is actually in the clade Coraciiformes, which includes kingfishers, motmots, and todies.
dragon screen.jpg
The Nine Dragon Screen Wall, one of the three largest in China.

The funniest place in the palace had to be the Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies, aka the theater. It is a beautiful four story building that has trapdoors in the ceiling and floor to allow the actors to come in and go out from everywhere. The emperor and family actually view the productions from “resting areas” in a building across from the theatre. I can imagine it was quite the production to see!

This is a typical Chinese sleeping area. This one is inside the quarters of the concubines and dowager.

All around the palace you can see huge copper water vats (see photo above) that were kept filled in case of fire. Apparently it was a problem as there was a lot of wood construction and maybe some careless or disgruntled concubines or employees. Ha, ha. Think about it though, with a place that big, you could have a fire on one end and not know at the other. Hence, the installation of the first telephone system in the country! There was even a six person switchboard that took and directed calls at the palace to other places.


There were all kinds of places to wander and things to see in the palace. Everything was elaborately painted and I was amazed at how well preserved it was for the vast size. There was probably another 40 acres that were closed off but I believe it was about 178 acres in total. There is an entire exhibition hall of clocks but the clocks are more a small part of a greater elaborate artwork.


There were enough clocks to know the time anywhere in the palace, and I believe some of them seemed to be trying to see how many different elements they could put on one clock: one had elephants, people, dogs, palm trees, pineapples, bells that sounded, and lights that all spun around and moved up and down. Oh, and there was a small clock on it!
This gentleman is a fortune teller in that you choose three cards and he tells you how they relate to your life. We woke him up to tell our fortune!
Just in case you were getting hungry, I thought I'd show you some of the food that was available that we didn’t eat! We saw hairy spiders, snakes, and things we aren’t sure of on a stick. The “items” are still alive until you buy them and then they meet their death in the hot oil as they are fried. I don't know the name for the mussels that are in the one picture, but they are fun because every time you walk by, they squirt water at you. That is food that talks back!
"Here's water in your eye!“
I don't know about you, but I usually try to kill these if I see them, not eat them.
Just your usual beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers on a stick!
These are the ducks that gave up their lives to become deliciously fried Peking Duck.
Two birds for the price of one on a stick!
You won't believe it but these are day lilies that we had for lunch! They were delicious and I may just try to make some myself.

As if a Forbidden City in the center of town weren’t enough, the emperor also had a place outside of town to get away from it all, the Summer Palace. We spent a very pleasant day here exploring the grounds and seeing all the buildings. There is a huge lake as well where you can go boating. I can see why the emperor would want to come here as it was very relaxing and you probably could find a place to be alone, though with 9,000 rooms in the Forbidden City Palace, you might be able to get lost in there too. I have not been to the Vatican City but I am guessing that the Forbidden City makes it look like a youth hostel. One of the coolest things we saw at the Summer Palace were the trees that looked like camouflage, which I believe are in the Sycamore tree family.

This is the Hoopoe bird.I wish I could have gotten a better picture but apparently we were lucky to have seen it at all so I am glad for that.

Tienanmen Square

Tienanmen Square was another spot we wanted to see for its historical significance. The square itself is a large area that can fit about a half million people, 109 acres in size, and the fourth largest in the world. It is in front of the entrance to the Forbidden City. In the square is the mausoleum of Chairman Mao and a statue to the People’s Working Party.


The amount of history and culture in China is immense. The country has been around for 2,000 years and seen a lot of change and conflict. What I think is most interesting is how much remains unchanged or imbedded in the culture after all that time. Things are changing here, but China needs to keep the traditions that make it unique and set it apart as a culture. We always kid about how litigious the US is and how you would never see the places we do here because they would be considered unsafe and off limits to preserve them. But on the other hand, there needs to be some controls so that the story is preserved for other generations to see and not have to just read about in books. History, both good and bad, needs to be studied and remembered so we all make better choices in the future.
This was outdoor Chinese opera and we felt like we had to leave because everyone was watching us instead of the opera!

We kid that this is where Carl Wehmeir's Chinese brother has his shop. It looked like where bicycles went to die!

Let’s Pick Some Berries!
Keeping in the theme of the outdoors, we were invited to go with some local Chinese to pick yang mei,”the Chinese word for bayberries, which are ready to harvest around the middle of June. There are provinces where they are especially grown and we headed to Yanxi where we climbed the trees and took part in the harvest process; we even got to keep the berry picking basket! (Being the only foreigners around can be an advantage when there is something you want that really isn't for sale) The berry has several varieties and the taste reminded me of raspberries or sweet blackberries. The berry itself is much bigger though and grows on a low growing tree. Their season is fairly short and the berries don't last long once you pick them so the people with us seemed to eat more right off the tree than fill their baskets. The little fruit flies really seemed to love the berries as well. I did make a cobbler out of some berries that everyone said was quite delicious, though there is a seed in the middle of it one so it was a little arduous cutting off the fruit!

Every house that we passed in this area had baskets hanging outside and baskets of berries being weighed inside.

Yang mei or Bay berries

The interesting fact we learned on this trip is that the ancient Chinese (hopefully no one today for the dog’s sake) believed that drinking the blood of a black dog will ward off evil spirits, especially ghosts. Dogs do have a harder life in this part of the world because they are part of the dinner table at certain holidays and regions, mostly an influence from Korea. The festival is celebrated around the summer solstice so you might have seen something about it recently in the news.

Lotus in Bloom For Miles!

The image that you see on many Chinese products is the lotus flower and it is in bloom here in China in the summer. You can literally see the pink and white blooms for miles if you go to the areas where they are being grown. They grow in shallow water, about two feet, and the Chinese use all the parts of the flower. You can eat the seed raw, cook it, cook the petals of the flowers, the stem, make soup, candy, and in the end, use the dried stalks for the kitchen stove.


According to Chinese medicine, it is all good for your health, but then they say that about all the various fruits and vegetables here in China so I think it is the fact that they are fruits and vegetables and that was God’s plan for them. Either way, it is a beautiful sight! There are many varieties and the farm we were at is working on propagating a two bloom on one stalk species that is very rare.
This guy was thankful that he wasn't on the lunch menu!

We had fun following the mama duck and her babies around the farm.

This is an example of the double blossom flower. It looks like a butterfly.
Along with the lotus, you will see fields and fields of rice being planted. It seems to be very labor intensive as each plant is put into the water one at a time. We saw both the rototiller type plow and the oxen with a wooden frame plowing up the muddy sections to get it ready to plant rice. I think it might be the reason for back problems among the older Chinese as well!

On our train ride back from Beijing, you could see the fields and fields of wheat getting ready to be harvested. I had not seen anything like it in any other part of China where we have been. It went on for miles, like corn in Iowa!

View at the old village
Our Chinese adventure draws to a close this week and God has made it a good one. No illnesses, accidents (which seriously, with the driving here, is amazing), and the ability to live in China for a year without knowing hardly any Chinese and still be able to travel and experience the country seems unheard of. If we had decided to continue here, we definitely would have worked more on our language skills. I think God uses the experiences of the unknowns that we try in our lives to help us learn to persevere, trust that He has us, and depend on Him. I think that is what makes the difference in a life being about living or just existing. Stayed tuned for what is up next…